School & Program Updates

School & Program Updates

Northwestern: Precision Medicine for “All of Us”

During the 2015 State of the Union Address, then-President Barack Obama announced the launch of a bold new plan.

“I want the country that eliminated polio and mapped the human genome to lead a new era of medicine — one that delivers the right treatment at the right time,” President Obama said. “Tonight, I’m launching a new Precision Medicine Initiative to bring us closer to curing diseases like cancer and diabetes, and to give all of us access to the personalized information we need to keep ourselves and our families healthier.”

Northwestern is now embarking on a groundbreaking research effort to help make that goal a reality.

Last year, the National Institutes of Health awarded the university — along with four other regional institutions that make up the Illinois Precision Medicine Consortium — a five-year, $51 million grant to help launch a landmark longitudinal research effort central to President Obama’s Precision Medicine Initiative.

Dr. Philip Greenland, the Harry W. Dingman Professor of Cardiology and director of the Center for Population Health Sciences, is the principal investigator of the Illinois Precision Medicine Consortium, one of a number of consortiums across the country.

“The scale of this is really new,” said Dr. Greenland, also a professor of epidemiology in the Department of Preventive Medicine. “This model of data collection — at a scale bigger than anything we’ve done before — seems as though it could actually improve the way that we go about diagnosing, treating, and predicting the onset and outcome of disease.”

The Illinois consortium, which aims to enroll around 125,000 participants in the cohort, plans to begin recruitment at a pilot level in mid-August.

The field of precision medicine — an emerging approach to disease prevention and treatment that takes into account a person’s individual genes, lifestyle, and environment — has already seen a number of promising advances. For example, some novel cancer therapies now target specific gene mutations. But it’s recognized that significant progress must still be made before medicine can truly be tailored to every individual patient.

The national program, dubbed the All of Us Research Program, aims to recruit one million or more people living in the United States of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds to share their genetic information, electronic health data, and biological samples over a long period of time. Participants in the study will also be invited to fill out questionnaires and contribute data via smartphones, sensors, or mobile health apps that will offer insights into environmental factors and lifestyle exposures.

“The ultimate goal is to speed up medical breakthroughs, so healthcare in the future can become more tailored to individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and biological makeup,” said Dr. Maria Lopez-Class, a project officer for the All of Us Research Program at the NIH.

“We’re looking to the Illinois Precision Medicine Consortium and our other partners to help design the program and spread the word to potential participants, including people who may never have taken part in research before,” Dr. Lopez-Class said. “We want the All of Us community to reflect the tremendous diversity of our country, so that the knowledge we gain from this resource benefits everyone.”

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